Pete Buttigieg, the nation’s hapless Secretary of Transportation, told Neil Cavuto in an interview that he won’t be raising the age of retirement for pilots—and this after a wild holiday weekend that saw soaring numbers of canceled flights and staff shortages at airports and airlines.
The age of retirement for commercial pilots was already increased 15 years ago, which raised it to its current cutoff of 65 after industry soothsayers predicted disastrous pilot shortages. That solved the problem for a time, but the pandemic in 2020 induced a slew of early retirements, and now airlines are in a bind over the lack of pilots and other staffing shortages.
Nevertheless, Buttigieg vowed he would not raise the retirement age for pilots. It’s a somewhat curious position, given that Americans are living and working longer than ever before—a point illustrated by Buttigieg’s own boss, 79-year-old Joe Biden. Come to think of it, though, Biden probably isn’t the best poster boy for still-working senior citizens, and having such a poor example before him on a daily basis may be why Buttigieg is reluctant to raise the retirement age.
“I’m much more interested in raising the bar on things like compensation and job quality than lowering the bar on something like safety,” he explained to Cavuto. “And when you get to these training hours, retirement age, and those things, those are fundamentally safety regulations. The United States of America shouldn’t be able to have a robust aviation system without watering down our expectations on safety and I will consider and entertain anything that does not compromise safety.”
Cavuto continued to press Buttigieg, insisting that “65 was the new 55 and we have a president who’s almost 80.”
“That regulation is there for safety reasons,” the Transportation Secretary replied. “I haven’t seen any piece of information or data that would suggest that the reasoning has changed. And so I’m going to look at other steps that are not affecting safety.”
All this comes after an unusually busy travel weekend that saw numerous cancelations and flight disruptions. Even some top Democrats have voiced their concern that Buttigieg was not doing enough to tackle the air traffic crisis, including Bernie Sanders, who wrote a letter to the secretary expressing his concerns.
“All over this country, airline passengers are growing increasingly frustrated by the massive increase in flight delays, cancelations, and outrageously high prices they are forced to pay for tickets, checked bags and other fees,” Sanders complained in his letter. “Thousands of flight disruptions have left passengers and crew members stranded at crowded airports from one end of the country to the other forcing them to miss weddings, funerals, and business meetings and ruining family vacations that have been planned for months in advance.”
The airlines, meanwhile, have blamed the delay on weather issues and staffing shortages, but the pilots aren’t having it. Last week, pilots were picketing airports across the country as they demanded better pay; at the same time, unions were warning about airlines irresponsibly scheduling flights that they knew they couldn’t adequately staff.
Buttigieg appeared unfazed by it all, saying that things would have been much worse if he weren’t in charge.
“I was very concerned with what happened over the Memorial Day weekend, got the airlines together, asked them what steps they were taking, anything that we could do collaboratively to see improvements by the July 4 holiday travel weekend,” he informed Cavuto. “The good news is this last travel weekend went better than Memorial Day did in terms of delays and cancelations.”
He also insisted that passengers would be protected.
“We’re going to continue using our consumer protection enforcement authority to make sure that when that does happen to passengers that they are properly compensated, as well as looking at the operational side to watch that number of delays and cancelations continue to go down because it’s not yet at a level that I consider acceptable.”
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